Many Endings Of Uncanny X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

Uncanny X-Men #137 is well known for featuring the Death Of Jean Grey. The Dark Phoenix. And the moment that comic books grew up. The ending however, was new. Famously Jim Shooter wouldn't stand for Jean Grey, portrayed as possessed by a cosmic force, to get away with committing genocide in a previous issue. She had to pay the ultimate penalty. The original story by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin would be later published in Phoenix: The Untold Story. It not only published the original ending, but the first draft of the dialogue, that Claremont rewrote while Byrne was drawing the new ending. But it was the published ending that cemented the story in the minds of readers as a classic.

Apparently, the original issue ended with a letter by John Byrne. The story goes that this was removed, as the new ending now needed an additional page. The original letter has apparently since seen publication in Spanish comics press, but not in the USA until now. These pages purport to be that letter, as retyped by Chris Claremont, with his own addition at the top and bottom, for editorial to use. And all courtesy of Ferran Delgado who has a history of working on Marvel Comics editions in Spain, and photographer José María Méndez.

This article it seems was written before the final Death of Jean Grey ending was decided. When written it appears it still had Jean being lobotomized, as according the last paragraph from Byrne, "Next issue, Scott and Jean go off to pick the pieces of their lives". Read on…

Many Endings Of Uncanny X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.
Many Endings Of Uncanny X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Image from source.

csc / x-men #137 / may / lettercol / 28 february 1980

intro copy / to be boxed at top of lettercol

Seventeen years old!?! Good grief–this book is almost as old as the characters in it! Wow! Next stop–20, 25, 50, 75, and, in June of 2063, the X-MEN's centenary. I wonder if John and I will still be working on the book. . ? Speaking of that Crazy Canajan. . .

intro copy (2) / to be boxed below intro copy (1)

And now for someone completely different. "HOW WE DID IT," or "so you think it's easy creating comic books?"

Well, Phoenix is gone, and as long as Chris and I stay on this book, gone forever. It took almost two years, and a lot of angst and anguish, not to mention phone calls into all hours of the night, but the deed is done, and life begins anew for the X-Men.

Of course, there may be no small number of you who are wondering why we did it, why we got rid of a character as (apparently) enormously popular as Phoenix? There may even be a few of you who are wondering why this particular version of her demise bears little or no resemblance to the various hints that might have been dropped over the last few months. Well, let's go back to the beginning, or at least my beginning with the X-Men: I've never liked Phoenix. There, I said it. Now, most of you will realize who one of the major "villains" of this

 

Many Endings Of Uncanny X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.
Many Endings Of Uncanny X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Image from source.

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piece is. It's not that I don't like Jean Grey. I have an abiding fondness for redheads, and have been in love with Jean since we first "met," about a million years ago when I was thirteen. I liked Marvel Girl, who I felt had a nicely developed personality, and–unlike Sue Storm, for instance–fulfilled a function in the early issues somewhat more advanced than getting captured by the bad guys.

Granted that her powers were not nearly so spectacular as Cyclops', or Angel's, or even Iceman's, but she looked real good in a tight uniform and could–and did–serve to get the X-Men out of tight places.

So it was for some sixty-six issues, until the book passed into reprint limbo, and Jean and the others into guest-star status in other folks' books.

Then came GIANT-SIZED X-MEN #1. A new team, a new beginning. Cyclops–always "Mr. X-Man"–remains. The others depart to make their own lives. Jean, too, departs. Scott is saddened at her departure. I was, too.

But in the context of the new team, she would have been reduced to early-Invisible Girl status, so. But Chris had not plotted her departure. That particular storyline, he had inherited from Len Wein, and–as is the wont of most writers–Chris immediately set about putting his stamp signature on the book (just as I did when I came aboard as artist, realigning the emphasis on the characters, and doing what I could to bring Wolverine more into the spotlight. I chose Wolverine, by the way, because he was at that time almost totally undeveloped, and the most easily "adopted" character, not

Many Endings Of Uncanny X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.
Many Endings Of Uncanny X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Image from source.

csc / x-men #137 / may / lettercol / 3

because he was Canadian.) The first thing Chris did was bring back Jean Grey.

Fine, so far. But then Chris and Dave Cockrum turned her into Phoenix. Chris' justification: "I felt we needed a strong female character in the group." Being a big fan of Storm, I found myself wondering why Chris felt this need. But, at that time, I was a long way from becoming the X-MEN's artist-in-residence, so I read the book as a fan, and loved it. (I'm still one of Dave's biggest fans, as I said way back in X-MEN #108.) But there always there was something that wasn't quite right.

Then I became the regular artist, and in my first is-sue, Phoenix saved the Universe. Now, granted, there was a lot of metaphysical arglebargle about "Trees of Life" and each X-Man fulfilling a vital role in the Scheme of Things, but when you bottom-lined what happened, Phoenix Saved The Universe! And that clarified what had been bothering me. Phoenix was too powerful. The X-Men had become guest stars in their own book. When Dave was artist, his natural fondness for a certain German-born mutant had often caused me to kid him about "Nightcrawler Comics. .co-starring the X-Men", but this was ridiculous. Even Kurt was lost in a book with Phoenix in it.

So, I started downplaying Phoenix as much as possible, until #113, when Chris decided that one of the X-Men should escape from Magneto's volcano lair along with the Beast. Guess who I suggested? Very good. You've been paying attention.

So, Phoenix was out, and as the story-line worked along, she was out for nearly a year. Was she missed? Based on the letters, not really.

Many Endings Of Uncanny X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.
Many Endings Of Uncanny X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Image from source.

csc / x-men #137 / may / lettercol / 4

Oh, every so often a hard-core fan would end a letter with "When is Phoenix coming back", but for the most part–since the real stars of the book were now able to strut their stuff–she wasn't really missed. And for a dozen issues, the X-Men got to fight villains and save innocents without Phoenix flexing a pinkie and putting everything back to rights while the others looked on.

Still, the time drew inevitably nearer when Phoenix would return. And, I confess, my interest in the book began to wane.

Enter Steven Grant. Steve suggested making Phoenix a villain. That way she wouldn't have to restrain her powers; that way a truly tragic note could be introduced into the book–all manner of possibilities suggested themselves. Chris bought it. Eventually, I bought it, and we set about constructing the wherefores of the transformation. After all, she should not simply wake up one morning feeling villainous.

By this time, the Jason Wyngarde/Hellfire Club scenario was already forming. Chris wanted to do something involving some really decadent, big-time villains. He came up with the Hellfire Club. I suggested Mastermind, and the idea of enthral-ling Jean. Chris came up with the Black Queen. Almost simultaneously, we realized that this was the hook we'd been seeking. If Mastermind twisted Jean into the Black Queen, wasn't it logical that the effect would be permanent–especially if (as things late*, evolved) the Phoenix was actually an Elder-God type of entity, rather than simply a manifestation of Jean's powers?

Many Endings Of Uncanny X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Image from source.
Many Endings Of Uncanny X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Image from source.

csc / x-men #137 / may / lettercol / 5

Now our problems are over, and the result is the book you've just read, right? Oh, would that it were so simple!

I've lost count of the number of times we built up and re-worked the story. The Hellfire Club worked. The Black Queen worked. Beyond that point, however.

Well, Phoenix would be apparently destroyed by the X-Men but would later in return in cahoots with Magneto.

No, Professor X would turn Jean's mind back to that of a ten year old, before she got her Marvel Girl powers, so that the Phoenix would lie dormant in her mind until they figured out how to control it, or some unfortunate mishap unleashed it and she returned in cahoots with Magneto.

No, Phoenix would be utterly destroyed, only Jean would mysteriously return some months later to take up residence again with Misty Knight, as if nothing had happened.

No, Phoenix would be destroyed and Jean would return to Marvel Girl status.

No, Jean would die. This would mean that the X-Men would break up, and a new team would be formed until a menace reunited the old team.

No, Jean would die–and this would mean that Scott alone would leave the X-Men, to find out what had gone wrong with his life.

No, Scott and Jean would leave and get married and. I think you begin to get the picture. Finally, over three nights, Chris and I tore down and rebuilt the whole scenario four (count 'em) times! Then, we deceided to bring Lilandra and the Imperial

 

Many Endings Of Uncanny X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.
Many Endings Of Uncanny X-Men #137 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Image from source.

 

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Guard into it, and you've just finished reading the result. Next issue, Scott and Jean go off to pick up the pieces of their lives, and as for the rest of the X-Men? Well, what was that Sebastian Shaw said a couple of issues ago about Sentinels. .?

john byrne

next issue blurb / boxed after above letter

NEXT ISSUE: John's comments notwithstanding, we present something of a change of pace–an album issue. If you've ever wondered whether or not Professor X is truly dead, or what was the Beast really like before he entered a Nightcrawler look-alike contest (that is, became blue and furry), among other questions of cosmic import, this is the place to find 'em out! And–oh, yes!–there will even be a few surprises, not the least of which is the long-awaited arrival of a certain 13-year old (going on 14) from a certain windy, midwest big city. Be here in 30, folks, for: "ELEGY!"

chris claremont 2/80

John Byrne's last sentence makes reference to this panel from #135:

XMEN135_07b copia

Byrne was paving the "Project Wideawake" finally introduced in the last page of #142. Why he's teasing this arc after #138? What happened with the Alpha Flight and "Days of Future Past" arcs? Ferran Delgado tells Bleeding Cool that both were not planned at this point. He tells us,

"DoFP was generated between #135 and 137 as a GN but got stopped. The GN line was intended to debut in 1980 and this GN was one of the first scheduled as seen in clips of fanzines at the age, but when the line was shelved till 1982, the project was stopped. Then it was tried to get published in the 1980 Annual but it didn't fit due to a low page count. It was produced when Salicrup was the X-Men Editor, hence the silly ad drawn by him."

Spider-Woman36-23ad

"The iconic #141 cover was drawn from a layout by Hannigan. He told that Salicrup asked him to use the Wings cover as reference, which is another evidence that the story was produced before the end of #137 was changed, the moment when Salicrup quit and Weezie came, and then she decided to use the synopsis in the regular title. I have Claremont's notes taken during a phone conversation with Byrne, the three-page pitch of the project meant to sell it to the editors, the synopsis, and #141 original plot developed from the notes taken by phone."

LALISTA

"This list are the plans handwritten by Byrne for the title. Notice that the Phoenix arc only lasts FOUR issues, and there's no DoFP story after the end of the Dark Phoenix arc. This is a clip from The Comics Journal  (December 1979) where Shooter talked about the new line, pay attention to the "european album" by Claremont, Byrne and Austin. The first graphic novel got released in 1982."

197912 TCJ052-03

Ferran Delgado also tells us he published in Spain magazines the original plots of the Dark Phoenix story when it was only a four-issue arc, and where Phoenix dies in combat with Professor Xavier, wherein the combat and death fully described by Claremont. He tells us he published 300 pages about it. Looks like we have something else to follow this up with… and here's a teaser look at what Days Of Future Past originally looked like in script form.

X-MEN#141_(plot)_01 LOW copia

And for X-Men fans, I hope you enjoyed the flashback before the return of Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu's X-Men…

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.

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